On 11 November 2014 UNU-IAS held a public seminar sharing lessons learned in monitoring and communicating the health impacts of the Fukushima nuclear accident. It explored challenges faced by scientists and other providers of information in presenting findings on health risks and impacts, as well as the concerns of affected communities and what kind of information they need — and in what form — to make informed choices.
The seminar Monitoring Impacts and Communicating Health Risks after Fukushima was co-organized by UNU-IAS as part of its Fukushima Global Communication programme, and the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR).
Wolfgang Weiss and Stephen Solomon of UNSCEAR described the findings of the UNSCEAR Fukushima Assessment report, and compared the estimated health impacts of the Fukushima accident with the Chernobyl accident. They emphasized that in both cases the social and psychological impacts on health would be greater than the direct effects of radiation.
Sae Ochi (Director of Internal Medicine, Soma Central Hospital, Fukushima) highlighted the problems faced by elderly people, and presented research showing that evacuation itself was a risk factor for health due to changes in lifestyles. She cautioned that focusing only on radiation leads to many victims being ignored, and called for broader monitoring of all health impacts.
Joe Moross of SAFECAST, a crowdsourced radiation monitoring network, described how the project developed rapidly in the aftermath of the nuclear accident, when information provided by official sources and the media was widely seen as inadequate. He explained how accurate, street-by-street radiation mapping could provide the vital information needed for people living in affected areas to make informed choices.
Nanako Shimizu (Associate Professor, Utsunomiya University, Tochigi, Japan) presented research from affected communities, showing the ongoing anxieties over the health risks and long-term effects of radiation. She noted how perceptions of radiation could be very different, even within families, and that discussion of radiation was becoming a taboo topic, often criticized as inciting “harmful rumours”. She emphasized that risk communication should not be one-way; it is essential that scientists and authorities listen to affected people and understand the reasons for their concerns.
A vibrant discussion followed the panel discussion, with many participants keen on further understanding the accuracy of data collection and reporting, existing and potential awareness-raising efforts regarding radiation impacts, and coordination mechanisms for related actors to improve health communication.
Presentation files from this seminar are available for download in the Related Files tab.